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Involved Parents = Better Students (Film at 11)

The George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF) puts out a monthly magazine called Edutopia, which focuses on innovation in the classroom (elementary and secondary). It is available in print form or online (www.edutopia.org). I started subscribing a few years back when I though my research might take me in the direction of K-12 educational technology.

On balance, Edutopia hasn’t been all that useful, but I was intrigued by an article in the most recent edition entitled Get Parents Involved: When Mom and Dad come to class, kids do better.

The article starts off great:

Most educators agree that parental involvement is a key ingredient in how well a student learns.

OK. Agreed. So one wonders why the educational establishment seems so opposed to homeschooling, which is parental involvement taken to its logical conclusion (don’t answer that — it’s a rhetorical question).

Anyway, here’s the main point of the article:

A small school in the Silicon Valley town of Saratoga, California, has taken this truism and run with it. Christa McAuliffe Elementary School (named after the schoolteacher killed in the Challenger shuttle disaster) has a program that not only encourages parents to be active members in their children’s education but also requires it.

If my child were in public school, I would love this idea, as long as it was implemented correctly, which McAuliffe seems to be doing, for the most part. I like their attitude:

“Our parents are not just aides in the back of the classroom,” says McAuliffe principal Michael Kalb. “We recognize that parents are a child’s first teacher and extend this notion into the classroom.

Well, I would amend this to say that parents are a child’s primary teachers. And quite honestly, it was a lack of evidence of such an attitude in our school district that was the impetus for our decision to homeschool.

The article takes a troublesome (and predictable) turn near the end.

Ben Maisel, a longtime teacher at McAuliffe, believes that parents learn as much as their children when they participate at school. “People need to take a hard look at the testbased accountability approach and think about the motivation,” he says. “Is this for the advancement of the student, or is it politically motivated?”

Is it just me, or is this a non sequitur? And is this the ulterior motive for the whole parental involvement thing, that parents will “learn” and sign on to the teachers’ political agenda?

Maybe I’m just paranoid. But I’m not reassured by the final comments:

He says that if more parents understood how the system worked, and what was required of teachers, more of them would be interested in the policies, both local and national, that affect their children’s education.

Gee whiz whilikers, I think I do understand how the system works, Mr. Maisel. But even if I didn’t, since I want the best for my child (and for all children) educationally I already am interested in education policies. Come to think of it, you’ve got it exactly backwards — as parents get more interested in educational policies at the local and national level, they try to understand how the system works and what is required of teachers.

A disappointing end to what might have been a very good article.

UPDATE (6/17/05): After thinking about it a while, I’ve decided that there is no cause and effect relationship at all between parents’ interest in “the system” and educational policies. The root cause here is parents’ interest in their child’s education (that’s the point of the article). Parents who care are going to want to know simultaneously about the system, the teachers, and educational policies..

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